Friday, April 10, 2015

Politics are Local Like You!

My guess is this month’s issue of The Newsletter from the GCSA of New England could be called the “Advocacy Issue.”  With the chapter coming off of the first-ever Massachusetts Golf Day on Beacon Hill, and follow-up visits with legislators in conjunction with Ag Day, the GCSANE has engaged in some heavy hitting government relations work.  With a quick recap of high school civics, I will remind you that government has federal, state, and local levels.  GCSANE has put a big fat check mark next to the “state” level this past month.  GCSAA will assist all members in knocking the federal level off the check list on April 15 at National Golf Day with the We Are Golf coalition. 
What about the local level?  Remember the old adage that states “All politics are local”? This was no more evident than at Mass. Golf Day, when I was engaged in a conversation with Christopher Yancich, legislative aide for Rep. Jeffrey Roy of Franklin.  As luck would have it, we had a superintendent from Franklin in the house -- Michael Luccini, CGCS, from Franklin Country Club.  We were able to put the two of them together and it was magic, or at least very productive.  It turns out Rep. Roy is an avid golfer, Yancich plays recreationally and wishes he was better. But more importantly Yancich and Luccini had mutual acquaintances with people who worked at FCC and also talked about the property.  Luccini was encouraged to reach out to Rep. Roy’s office for any issue that the golf industry might need assistance with.  This one interaction could develop a real, local connection that can assist in creating beneficial relationships for the golf industry should future needs arise. 
Consider the following information:

We Are Golf (National)
       465 Million Rounds Played
       $68.8 Billion Annual Impact
        Supporting 2 Million Jobs
ü  $55.6 Billion from U.S. Jobs
       143,000 Charitable Events Annually
ü  12 Million Participants
ü  $3.9 Billion Annual Impact
Massachusetts State Golf Day (State)
  $2.7 Billion – Total economic impact of golf in Mass., including direct, indirect and induced impacts.
• $1.7 Million – Total size of the Bay State golf economy.
·         Nearly 25,500 Massachusetts jobs.
ü  $796.8 Million – Total wage income
• $74.3 Million – Total amount of charitable giving attributed to golf in Massachusetts.

What your facility or company contributes matters to your local legislator too.  Can you fill in the blanks?

Your Facility Here (Local)

·         ______ Rounds Played

·         ______Total revenue generated

·         ______Number of Jobs

ü  ________Total wage income

·         ______Number of charitable events

ü  ________Total number of charitable participants

Mother Nature has dealt the Northeast region another long and arduous winter.  Rest assured, the public will again know the grass might not be greener on the other side of the fence, but it certainly is on the other side of Rae’s Creek.  As the Masters brings our industry into focus, be sure you are focused on the impact your golf facility, or even golf related company, provides to the local economy.  Make sure your members and customers know as well.  With national, state, and local efforts educating legislators we all stand a better chance of changing misperceptions of our industry into the reality that golf is good.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Remember the Buffalo!

As of the writing of this article, the snow blower has just been put away and the snow continues to fall. That does not exactly narrow down the timeframe much around here lately does it? This winter came in like a lamb in New England, and apparently Mother Nature is trying to make up for lost time. Late February may offer superintendents something to look forward to.  In just a short time, many in the Northeast will attend the Golf Industry Show and are very much looking forward to San Antonio. With temperatures in the 60-70 degree range, it will be a welcomed respite from the snow. But as we prepare to visit the Riverwalk, perhaps this is a good time to not just remember the Alamo, but the Buffalo!

Think that is a strange reference? Imagine this:  areas of Massachusetts have recorded more than 60 inches of snow in the last four weeks. The folks just south of Buffalo recorded that in just two days, with some spots in the region topping off at 7 feet in just four November days. I had the pleasure of visiting four Buffalo-area superintendents the same day winter storm Juno began to dump snow on the greater Boston area.

“I’ve never seen anything like it. It was scary,” was the opening salvo from Drew Thompson, superintendent of East Aurora CC, and 20-year-member of GCSAA.

Thompson was the winner in the snow total sweepstakes, having accumulated 6 feet at his home and 7 feet at the course. Joining Thompson were superintendent colleagues Gale Hultquist, CGCS, of Wanakah Country Club and a 37-year GCSAA member; Robert Kelly, CGCS, of Orchard Park CC, a 24-year GCSAA member; and  Eric Tuchols of Harvest Hill GC, an 11-year GCSAA member, all of whom put their course totals at or near 5 to 6 feet of snow.

The weather event was confined to a narrow path and began on Monday, Nov. 17. The final snowfall stopped during the afternoon of Nov. 21. A rare weather pattern of very cold air moving across the warm water of the Great Lakes created the flow of moisture. The fact that the wind direction hardly ever shifted kept the bulls-eye on the area just south of Buffalo.
No epic snowfall at the Tuchols residence in Amherst, NY.
(Photo by Eric Tuchols)

Getting around during the event was a challenge. Tuchols got 3 inches of snow at his home less than 20 miles from Orchard Park, the golf course location.

“I got a dusting and when I drove into it, it was holy cow,” he said.

He notes that he stayed off major highways and was stopped by police and the National Guard on his way to the course. Thompson’s description of his commute to the club on Wednesday was a little more colorful: “It was apocalyptic.  There were abandon cars all over the road, it was eerie.”

Kelly didn’t get to Orchard Park CC until Friday morning.

“I woke up on Tuesday and the snow was up to the door handles of my truck,” he said. “My GM called me because he wanted me to come in, but they hadn’t done my cul-de-sac.  I could have got to the end of my driveway but there were four or five feet of snow there too.”

Removal was equally challenging. The initial snow was extremely wet and heavy making plowing nearly impossible when more snow piled on top of it.

“We stayed on it from the time it started until the time it ended,” Thompson said while noting cars using the cleared out club entrance created issues. They got one truck stuck avoiding the vehicles, which they eventually removed, only to get it stuck again later in the storm.
It took a loader to reach the clubhouse at Wanakah.
CC in Hamburg, NY. (Photo by Gale Hultquist)

“It was a storm for big pay loaders not little trucks,” said Hultquist.

Hultquist was fortunate enough to gain the services of two such pieces of equipment. One contractor asked to park his low-boy trailer at the club, which was a short distance from the property he was hired to maintain. That individual made a pass through the club, and another contractor working for area members also made two passes through the club property giving the staff a critical start to the clearing process. In all, Thompson got both his plow trucks stuck, and a staff member at Wanakah got his stuck too.

Mother Nature delivered these superintendents some one-of-a-kind issues as well. Thompson and East Aurora operate a pump that is designed to regulate the water table in an adjacent wetlands area. In addition to keeping part of the property from remaining under water for the entire spring season, the pump keeps part of the Village of East Aurora from incurring water related damage. So what happens when seven feet of snow shows up? The monitoring software showed the pump station has faulted. The location is on the other side of the golf course and plowing in was not an option. Knowing that a large melt down was imminent, Thompson had to walk in with snow up to his mid chest.

“I thought I was going to die,” he said. “You are walking through it (snow) and your feet aren’t even touching the ground, it is like quicksand. I sat in the pump house for an hour and a half. I called the guys at the shop on the radio and told them they had to bring the loader in to rescue me. My wife reminds me all the time that I say that pump will be the death of me.” 

Kelly was in the process of installing a new pump station at Orchard Park CC, and the intake was not in place. He was faced with working to empty his irrigation pond again after the snow melt filled it to capacity. Kelly had to buy 400 feet of drainage tile to divert the water away from neighbors, rent a 6-inch pump and run it constantly for four days.

Tuchols was very nervous about not having his snow mold
protection down.  Easy to see why! (Photo by Eric Tuchols)
Tuchols faced challenges at Harvest Hill as well.

“I had no snow mold protection down when the storm hit,” he said.

With a course buried under nearly 6 feet of snow, that had to be a sick feeling. Fortunately the rapid melt down began on Sunday following the storms at which point Tuchols knew he would get his chance. Most of the course melted off naturally and after two days of shoveling the shaded greens off, the final application was made.

The towns south of Buffalo saw temperatures spike into the low 70s following the epic snowfall, and as quickly as it came, it was gone. They also missed the predicted rain that would have created massive complications due to flooding. These days, New England continues to get pelted with snow and constant low temperatures.  Stories of the challenges faced by others won’t do anything to lighten the mood. What it might do is shed some light on the perseverance necessary to not only survive, but to thrive as a golf course superintendent in the Northeast region. While I hope to see you in sunny San Antonio, I definitely don’t look forward to the shoveling I will probably have to do upon my return.

Monday, November 24, 2014

What is all the buzz about?

From Europe to Washington, D.C., to Washington State and nearly every place between, the plight of honey bees has been on the main stage. After attending the Pollinator Summit (presented by the New Jersey Green Industry Council) and Dr. Daniel Potter’s keynote address at the New York State Turfgrass Association Turf and Grounds Exposition, I have come to learn a lot about the critical role pollinators play in our world. Like turf, there are internal and external stresses that can upset the balance of the hive and industry. Oh and there are politics, lots of politics. There is also science, emotion and a host of other factors involved in the discussion. While the issues continue to swarm, let’s take a quick peek at golf’s footprint in this issue.

What role does turf play in the pollinator discussion? Neonicotinoid class insecticides (neonics), often used as a preventative for white grubs, have been shown to have adverse effect on pollinators. The degree to which they affect the beneficial insects often has more to do with which side of the political issue you wish to argue. While this situation is unfortunate it definitely can create disruption in turf right here in the Northeast region. Just this past year alone, legislative measures took place in New Jersey, New York, Vermont, and Maine to ban the use of neonics. Beekeepers in Vermont joined one superintendent at the committee hearing to assist in educating the legislators as to the minimal role neonics play in pollinator issues. Stephanie Darnell, technical development manager, Bayer CropScience, cited a survey of beekeepers that placed pesticides as the seventh most important stress factor to those in the bee industry, with varroa mite at the top of the list.

While none of the above mentioned legislation efforts were successful, it opens up the “what if” discussion. Without this useful tool, turf managers could be pushed to use more volatile chemicals, such as organophosphate and carbamate insecticides, to control the same pests. These options are much less environmentally friendly, more costly and potentially more harmful to non-target pests.

What can turf managers do with regards to our friendly pollinators?

Develop stewardship practices: Learn about our role as land managers and the stresses regarding honey bees. Develop spray programs with the sensitivities of pollinators in mind.

Support research: Emotion and regulation can often outpace research needed to answer vital questions, and this issue is no exception. Remain vigilant regarding the latest research, and adjust your practices as needed.

Be part of the solution: It is so often overlooked that the golf industry undertakes environmental initiatives simply because it is the right thing to do. The changing landscape is often a negative impact on pollinators, leaving open green space that includes pollinator friendly vegetation as a critical part of the solution. Whether you choose to work with industry partners on specifically developed pollinator friendly programs, or become conscious of areas and plantings that you could incorporate on your property, avenues are available for our industry to be part of the solution.

I encourage GCSAA chapters to reach out to your state apiarists as a resource for information. Invite that individual to a meeting or education day to spread the word about pollinators in your area. The more you learn about the role your facilities play in the issue, the better chance you have at being part of the solution.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Joe's of yesterday...

I have the opportunity to spend time with GCSAA members and great people in the industry as part of my duties as your field staff representative. One such interaction more than a year and a half ago has stuck with me, and has been thrust back to the forefront of my mind for reasons both fortunate and unfortunate. 

This particular event was the Finger Lakes Association of GCS Elmer J.Michaels Scholarship and Research Tournament. I had the pleasure of spending the day with Joe Hahn, a legend in the golf and turf industry in New York, and a true gentleman. If you were to spend some time researching Hahn’s background, you would undoubtedly be impressed. I distinctly remember a tweet I sent out stating “our industry is where it is today because of the Joes of yesterday”.

Why do I reminisce of such an event?  The GCSA of New England takes the opportunity to recognize the members who have molded their association over the years at the Chapter Championship. Recognizing each retired participant, complete with first-tee-at-Augusta style bio, is a tremendous gesture and one that is obviously appreciated by those in attendance. In addition, the golf portion of the day has a category to decide the supremacy of the retired division. I’m sure if I were to look at the Past Presidents list or Distinguished Service Award winners, many of those at the Chapter Championship would be on one list or both. 

GCSA of New England President Mark Gagne recognizes the retired members at MCC.

The overwhelming reason I wanted to write about these particular events is the recent recognition of a long-time member of the Northeastern GCSA, Mark Printsky. Printsky retired from his role as superintendent for McGregor CC in Saratoga Springs, and returned shortly after to “work” with the staff doing facilities maintenance. In all he was at McGregor CC for more than30 years. Printsky went to sleep on June 8, 2014, and never woke up. His friends, family, and colleagues held a memorial event in his honor Aug. 23, with nearly 100 in attendance. Mary Beth Printsky likened her husband’s occupation as superintendent to that of firefighters, “more like a brotherhood, not a profession.” She told the group of the love Mark shared for the chapter and all its members, and the passion for the profession that bound them all close.

Northeastern GCSA President Brian Goudey announces the adoption of a chapter scholarship in memory of Mark Printsky.

The state of the industry, and most associations, is not what it was back in the day. The superintendents charged with leading the profession at any point have had to make changes and adapt to any number of challenges. Consider recognizing them for their accomplishments before it is too late. Remember, the industry and profession is where it is today because of the dedication and hard work they all did for us yesterday.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Do work and family always have to conflict?

I am often asked what I miss about being a superintendent. Involving my family in the sport is usually my first response. I always enjoyed the time spent on my course with my children and wife. I miss playing two or three holes (small children) or an impromptu lunch visit followed by one staying with me for hot afternoon syringe duty. Do work and family always have to conflict? Can they coexist?  Those are two questions that many facilities, chapters and even your national association are often faced with. Superintendents seem to have become more active in family events that it is harder to chisel out time to participate in industry-related events outside of the typical work hours. Many chapters work to bring the two together as well. Here are some of the many ways in which members are no longer forced to choose:


The chapter picnic is a popular one. Several chapters make the opportunity available during summer months. Often a low-key fun event striving for social time and family involvement, many take place at a local park. One such event is described by the chapter as “A great event to spend some fun quality time with your family, friends and fellow members. Please come and join us for a fun ball game, a swim in the pool, jumping in the bouncy castle and a delicious BBQ.” While shop talk often takes place, it is not always the superintendents leading the charge in this department. The significant others can get comfort from those with whom they can relate. Relax, unwind, and spend time with the family at a chapter picnic.

Sports event:

Here in the Northeast we are lucky to have some great, family friendly and affordable sports options. Whether it is minor league baseball or hockey, chapters have included these opportunities into their meeting schedule. Sports are another great avenue for social interaction with peers, and entertainment for the family as well. Hockey in golf’s offseason has become a successful staple of some chapter offerings. 

Parent/child golf event:

The Metropolitan GCSA hosts a parent/child golf event at where they also award and recognize the recipients of the chapter scholarships. It is a nine-hole scramble after working hours, at a child-friendly location with a simple meal to follow. The scholarships are presented, and the best part, those awarded are often playing in the event or have in the past.  Because of a limited field, this event often fills up quickly. What better way to promote the scholarship benefit than to involve the children in the event long before they are even eligible. It is also a great way to get on the course with family!

Amusement park:

The Connecticut AGCS hosts a day at a local amusement park. With ticket prices skyrocketing, a group event that includes an all you can eat buffet and parking for nearly half the price is a steal! In addition, an entire amusement park at the children’s disposal means entertainment for the family is guaranteed. I’ve done the amusement park thing with my family recently, and the children aren’t the only ones going to have a good night sleep. More importantly, time with the family is added to the CAGCS calendar, and the attendance continues to show the value the members see in the event.

It is often hard to make decisions to attend chapter meetings or events, and often family commitments are the reason. Perhaps there is a way family and chapter events can coexist after all?

Friday, June 27, 2014

Will Changes to "Waters of the U.S." Float Your Boat?

The need to update you on the EPA and Army Corp of Engineers proposed changes to “Waters of the U.S.” is great, but honestly I have focused on that frequently in many newsletters lately.  So this time I go off topic, sort of.  What I will focus on the unseen value GCSAA brings to you.  Not from my perspective, but from that of a GCSAA Class A member. How does a member go from newly appointed chapter president to an invited guest for a meeting with EPA District 1 within six days?  Let us look at a timeline on how that happened and where value plays a role:

  • June 9-11: GCSAA’s Chava McKeel, associate director, government relations attended meetings in Washington, D.C., relating to Clean Water Act, pesticide regulations, labor issues and more.
  • June 13: The Vermont Agency of Agriculture representative contacted McKeel (the connection was made earlier that week in D.C.), informing her of an EPA site visit to Vermont to discuss proposed changes to the “Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS).” They asked if there was a GCSAA representative who could attend?
  • June 14-16: Communications continued through weekend and into early following week.
  • June 17: I was invited to the meeting.
  • June 18: Board of Directors meeting with VtGCSA, which was GCSAA Class A member Jason Shattie’s first as chapter president.  During the meeting, an Email arrived offering an invitation for a Vermont superintendent to participate in the EPA meeting.  Shattie, as president, accepted the invitation
  • June 23: McKeel and I discussed WOTUS and the ramifications on the golf industry via conference call.
  • June 24: EPA Meeting Day. Shattie and I met at his facility (Burlington Country Club) in the early afternoon to discuss WOTUS and the ramifications to his facility and the golf industry. That evening, approximately 40 people met with EPA and Vermont State Department of Agriculture at University of Vermont.
  • June 25: I followed up with a visit to BCC during a rain event registering over 1.0 inches of precipitation.

Shattie’s Burlington CC is not unlike many golf courses across the country.  The property is part of a storm water runoff plan, including the surrounding neighborhood and the adjacent UVM campus.  This increased flow of water during periods of average and above-average rainfall causes more than the usual issues when it rains. The proposed changes to WOTUS are destined to create a significant burden at BCC.  The inclusion of these “ephemeral waters” may create an issue at most golf courses.  Originally designed to move water off the playing surfaces to underground drainage, surface drainage ditches, or into small waterways through out of play areas, these areas may now require a federal National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit to apply chemicals to.  In Shattie’s case, both of the following pictures represent areas that could fit the above profile:

Both areas require the responsible use of pesticides.  The permit will be expensive and take time to apply for and receive, if granted.  These will both affect the operations at his facility.  If these pictures represent similar areas at your facility, you could be impacted as well.

As the above timeline shows, actions being taken that you do not see can be impactful, and have tremendous value. Golf’s representation at that EPA meeting in Vermont left an impression on those in the state and at EPA; golf course superintendents are engaged in protecting the property we are entrusted to maintain. These efforts, in addition to communicating golf course superintendents as environmental stewards, are promoting golf as a solution, not the problem. The opportunity given to one member to learn about the challenges to golf with the new Waters of the U.S. and become engaged has given our industry an extremely motivated individual working to protect our profession. Could the next engaged member be you?


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Are you hiding from positive feedback?

Are you hiding from positive feedback?  Seems like a silly question doesn’t it?  But positive feedback seems to be a foreign concept in the golf course superintendent profession.  Sometimes these kind verbal phrases are referred to as compliments.  Maybe you have heard of them? 

Sarcasm aside now, let me explain my opening question.  As I communicate more directly with GCSAA members, I am often amazed by the lack of accessibility of superintendents on facility websites. The GCSAA database contains some information regarding you as members, but has hardly any details about your facilities. I typically find the facility on the web for general background information, including items such as accessibility (public/private), directions, or small course details. Inevitably I will try and find the superintendent on the website.  I have found that there are surprisingly few superintendents even mentioned.  Managers, club staff, golf pros, as well as others, are often prominently displayed, but not the superintendent. So I did a small study. 

I looked up five members randomly from three chapters (Rhode Island, Cape Cod, New England), and went to their facility’s website.  I looked for a mention of the superintendent and direct contact information. I found that the superintendent was mentioned by name on seven of 15 websites. I also found three of the 15 had direct contact information for the superintendent.  Surprising? In addition, four websites had direct contact information for multiple staff members, but not the superintendent!

Back to the opening question:  Are you hiding from positive feedback?  I think we have answered the first part with the above (very unscientific) study. It was a small sample size, but clearly it is hard for the general public to reach the superintendent. What about the positive feedback part?  Well, let’s face it; if someone has a negative comment it will be directed to anyone and everyone.  It will undoubtedly get back to you no matter how difficult you are to contact. But what if someone has a compliment about the course or for you? If your contact information is readily available, they can send it directly to you.  I suppose they could use a general contact for the club.  Do you think you would receive that message?  

Think about the communication tools available at your club, especially the website. Consider how they are affecting the flow of information, including potential positive feedback from golfers, guests or others. Advocate for yourself and, if needed, increase your level of self-promotion on the facility website.  Perhaps you might happen upon some of those compliment things I mentioned earlier!